Call of Chicago: Paperback Writer

“Colonel Buchan’s novel Greenmantle has more than a flavor of truth …”

— T.E. Lawrence, to Robert Graves

In Britain, the first rank of spy novelists has long included writers from the ranks of actual intelligence agencies: John Buchan (British Army Intelligence Corps), Somerset Maugham (MI6), Graham Greene (MI6), Dennis Wheatley (London Controlling Section of the War Cabinet), Anthony Burgess (British Army Intelligence Corps), Kenneth Benton (MI6), and of course David Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré (both MI5 and MI6). (The finest, and almost the first, American example is Charles McCarry, who publishes his first novel The Miernik Dossier six years after leaving the CIA, in 1973.) But the best example of the overlap (if not the best novelist or the best spy) is Ian Fleming, the former British Naval Intelligence planner who created James Bond in Casino Royale (1958) to little or no acclaim. In 1961, President Kennedy lists From Russia With Love as one of his top ten books, putting Fleming on top of the US mystery and crime charts and leading MGM to greenlight the first Bond film Dr. No (1962). The movies send Fleming’s sales into the millions before he dies in 1964.

No relation to Randolph.

Meanwhile in America, spy fiction came out of the pulps and melded with the hard-boiled detective genre, most notably with Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series (27 novels, 1960-1993) and more prolifically with Edward S. Aarons’ Assignment series (42 novels, 1955-1976) starring CIA agent Sam Durell. Bond’s success inspires paperback original publisher Award Books to revive the pulp detective Nick Carter as superspy Nick Carter: Killmaster in 1964. Various authors (in the 1960s primarily Michael Avallone, Valerie Moolman, and Manning Lee Stokes) using the “Nick Carter” house name (the novels are in the first person) churn out 261 Killmaster novels on an approximately bimonthly schedule.

The writers of these series are mostly professional authors, without any espionage background. The partial exception is James Atlee Phillips, who as “Philip Atlee” writes a series about CIA contractor Joe Gall (22 novels, 1963-1976), rebranded as the “Nullifier” series after 1966. After a career with the OSS, Phillips ran the CIA front Amphibian Airways in Burma from 1947 to 1954. But his brother, David Atlee Phillips, runs the CIA’s Western Hemisphere operations in 1973-1975, the culmination of a 25-year Agency career that includes planning the Bay of Pigs operation and helping to overthrow Allende. During the Fall of DELTA GREEN era, David Atlee Phillips takes part in the anti-Castro Operation MONGOOSE (1961-1964) as chief of covert operations in Mexico, and serves as station chief in the Dominican Republic (1965-1969) and Brazil (1969-1970). James and David have a tempestuous relationship illustrated by Joe Gall’s tendency to ridicule the Bay of Pigs planners and CIA station chiefs.

By the 1970s, the Killmaster spawns his own lines of imitators, notably Remo Williams, the Destroyer (150+ novels, 1971-present) by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, and Mack Bolan, the Executioner (600+ novels, 1969-present) by Don Pendleton. Pendleton writes four novels a year about non-spy super-killer Bolan until 1980, when the Executioner becomes a multi-author franchise like the Killmaster. (Bolan fights Cthulhu cultists in Executioner #264: Iron Fist (2000) and Cthulhu spawn in Executioner #276: Leviathan (2001), both by Gerald Montgomery.) Joseph Rosenberger’s Death Merchant series featuring hit man Richard Camellion (70 books, 1971-1988) takes on not just the Mafia, neo-Nazis, and Red China but secret societies, Soviet psychotronics, clone armies, and the hidden city of Shambhala.

Camellion isn’t alone on the fringe. British spy novelist W. Howard Baker uses the pseudonym “Peter Saxon,” the credited author of the Guardians series (6 novels, 1968-1970) about a team of occult investigators. Baker sharecrops the “Peter Saxon” name to other writers; who exactly wrote which Guardians novel remains (appropriately) a mystery. The Mind Masters series (5 books, 1974-1976) by John F. Rossman stars Britt St. Vincent, a psychic race car driver who investigates occult conspiracies for the clandestine Mero Institute. And then there’s CIA agent Peter Ward, the “American James Bond,” who stars in nine novels (1965-1971) by David St. John. In his last two adventures, The Sorcerers (1969) and Diabolus (1971), Ward battles an alliance of Satanists, voodooists, and Communists straight out of Dennis Wheatley, featuring MK-ULTRA-style mind-control drugs deployed by heroes and villains alike.

Which intrigues not least because “David St. John” is one of many pen names for active, on-duty CIA agent E. Howard Hunt. (According to fellow CIA agent and spy novelist William F. Buckley Jr., Hunt wrote too prolifically for the CIA to review his manuscripts.) Hunt began his clandestine career with the OSS in China, and with David Atlee Phillips planned the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala and the Bay of Pigs. He then serves as chief of covert action for the CIA’s (borderline illegal) Domestic Operations Division (1962-1964), in Madrid for two years on a shadowy mission that included “write spy novels”, and as covert action chief for Western Europe (based in Washington, however) from 1968-1969. He resigns from the Agency in 1970 and works for various security-state front groups and the White House until his 1972 indictment for the Watergate burglary he helped mastermind.

A Dirty Story of a Dirty Man: Operation TRAVEN

“All this was flagrant trashiness, and my friend Manton was not slow to insist on that fact. Then I told him what I had found …”

–H.P. Lovecraft, “The Unnamable”

The X-Files episode “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man” by Glen Morgan plays with the career of Hunt and Phillips, portraying the titular “Cancer Man” as JFK’s assassin (both Hunt and Phillips may have met – or recruited – Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico) and as frustrated spy novelist “Raul Bloodworth,” creator of the Jack Colquitt adventures based on his own career. Inspired by Morgan’s riff (and perhaps by these lovely covers by Loz Bearfield), can we posit a series of men’s adventure paperbacks that correlates a few too many of DELTA GREEN’s proprietary contents?

Superspy Dalton Verdant, codenamed the Outsider, works for a secret nameless “Division” vaguely attached to the Navy. Reporting only to Admiral Joseph Cooke, he beds beautiful women and battles international Communism and weirder foes in a series of lurid paperback novels from Pagan Books:

  • The Stalin Sanction (May 1966): Verdant crosses Siberia in disguise – to prevent SMERSH mad scientists from re-animating Joseph Stalin! Verdant fights “charnel dog-men” in KGB uniforms. (Cf. Operation SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS; FoDG, p. 163)
  • The Shanghai Sanction (Oct 1966): Verdant is ordered to assassinate Stephen Alban, “Red China’s top Satanist in Asia,” and does so by blowing up Alban’s airplane. (Cf. Operation PARIAH; FoDG, p. 180)
  • The South Pole Sanction (Feb 1967): Verdant tracks Karthek, leader of a neo-Nazi cult, to “Hitler’s frozen bolt-hole” in Antarctica powered by “living brains from Atlantis.” The brains explode into blob-monsters and destroy the base. (Cf. Operation SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY; FoDG, p. 286)
  • The Simba Sanction (Jun 1967): Verdant fights “Cuban voodooists” in the Congo, and faces the “Mongolian Death Worm” they have awakened in a jungle city of white apes. (Cf. Operation KURTZ; FoDG, p. 180)
  • The Saucer Sanction (Nov 1967): Verdant rescues a beautiful, amnesiac NASA test pilot from a flying saucer crash site in Nicaragua, battling a hit squad seemingly sent by the U.S. government to kill her – and him! Mind control gave her amnesia; the hit squad uses a serum derived from alien fish-men. (Cf. Project GARNET; FoDG, p. 163)

The credited author of all five books is “Ward Phillips.” This pseudonym might refer to (Agency (CIA)) Hunt’s spy character and Atlee’s middle name, or (Occult) to the Rhode Island ghost-story writer (colleague and friend of author-mystic Randolph Carter) Ward Phillips (1880-1937?). The Saucer Sanction’s plot strongly resembles the script of the Matt Helm movie The Ambushers, released in December 1967 – could “Phillips” have Hollywood connections? “Phillips” might be a DELTA GREEN agent left in the cold after a breakdown, or the sibling (or spouse, or child) of such an agent. He (or she) might be a psychic in contact with a former agent, or a fragment of an agent’s personality detached by Yithian or Xin magic and now trying to write its way back into existence by possessing amphetamine addicts.

Hunting “Phillips” through a network of weird loner tough-guy writers, skeevy publishers, and predatory Hollywood small-timers takes all the HUMINT the Agents can muster. None of the operations “Phillips” uses as source material postdate 1964, giving a possible date for their retirement. Once MAJESTIC notices the connections in The Saucer Sanction, the Agents have a rival team hunting “Phillips,” and killing witnesses: the Seattle offices of Pagan Books go up in a mysterious fire on New Year’s Day 1968, detonating five cases of ammunition illegally stored in the building’s basement. Is there a connection to the Two Lanterns or another occult radical group?

Finally, if you want to play a session (or a whole campaign!) in the world of Dalton Verdant and the Division, use Night’s Black Agents; ideally the “airport thriller” drift rules (Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook, p. 320). Go ahead and add monsters and magic from Fall of DELTA GREEN or Trail of Cthulhu on an ad hoc basis. Dalton Verdant has vanished on the trail of a British ex-superspy traitor and sex magician named Hamish Rhodes, and Admiral Cooke recruits your team to follow him …


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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